GenderQueer Literature

We Had No Rules: a review

Corinne Manning

Arsenal Pulp Press, May 12, 2020

Corinne Manning’s debut collection of short stories takes us into the messy world on contemporary queer life, navigating assimilition versus rebellion and fitting in versus belonging. Written in the first person, the narrators tell of gay divorces, break ups, hilarious at times, sexy as hell at others, surprising yet familiar. No one is a single identity and within these pages, I can experience and witness our queer world from within.  

The opening of Gay Tale comes close to sounding autobiographical even while knowing this is a short story: “Oh fuck it. I’m writing lesbian fiction…How many people, I wonder, have stopped reading already? A lot of lesbians are scary, and weird. I don’t even like the word.” (p.27) I know the feeling. The tone is light, playful, and still addresses the fear of strangers yelling insults, defining one’s own desires, and playing knowingly with the reader, “I knew I would end this story before the sex scene. My arms were exhausted.” (p.37)

Professor M is a story we’ve heard before, the almost affair, the layers, the partner at home, a dog, seven years together, and yet it’s also fresh. The first person narrator is ungendered and open to your own interpretation, the ending hopeful. Looking at how she played with not specifying the gender of the narrator, the use of the initial M as the name, the girlfriend won’t comment on gender as they’d been together so long, it’s irrelevent. The student’s reaction to M is  flirtatious. M wonders, “If I held her in that office, would I feel it on the sides of her thights, around her ribs? What is it like for someone with a sprit to avaliable to hold someone like me?” (p.47.). To me, an example of how many (straight) readers would read that as the male gaze. Manning is comfortble with gender ambiguity, playing with stereotypes and expectations. Almost without noticing.  Information is dropped without blinking, no explanation, just matter of fact. “She stood and stripped down to her underwear and T-shirt. Small breasts. No testicles. She dove into the water” (p.36). And “I didn’t like that she called me a man, but I didn’t have the language then don’t quite still” (p.82). “The world would bend away from me even if I wanted to bend towards the world” (p.104).

BIO: Corinne Manning is a prose writer and literary organizer. Their stories and essays have been published widely, including in Toward an Ethics of Activism and Shadow Map: An Anthology of Survivors of Sexual Assault. Corinne founded The James Franco Review, a project that sought to address implicit bias in the publishing industry.

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